Having children who are now competent adults is an accomplishment and likely a source of pride for you as a parent. However, if you have a boyfriend who is critical of your now adult children, it can lead to animosity and resentment from you and your children. It can also damage your relationship with both your children and your boyfriend. Handling a boyfriend who shares criticism freely with your adult children is a balancing act, but a necessary one.
Set boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable comments from your boyfriend. Setting boundaries, explains Johnson State College in their online publication "Things You Should Know About Boundary Setting," isn't punitive -- and you shouldn't give it, nor should he take it, as punishment. Taking a firm and clear stand by saying something like, "I will not continue to listen to your criticism of my children," provides your boyfriend with the opportunity to understand your position and make changes to improve your relationship. Without compromise on both sides, explains Marriage and Family Therapist Steven Stosny, criticism can cause irreparable damage to your relationship.
Express your feelings about his criticism to your boyfriend without inferring reasons as to why he is being critical of your adult children. Stick to facts when describing his specific comments and add a dose of how his criticism makes you feel as a parent. For example, you might state, "I feel angry when you criticize my son's choice to finish his education before looking for a job." This approach provides him with the opportunity to explain his perspective while also letting him know that you are feeling protective of your son.
Encourage your boyfriend to use feedback in place of criticism. Feedback is an approach to facilitate change, according to Dr. Stosny, while in contrast, criticism forces your opinions into play without room for compromise. Work on giving your adult children feedback with your boyfriend, doing so at times when emotions aren't heightened. An example of feedback is telling your adult child, "We realize that you are working hard to finish your degree, but we have concerns about your not getting experience in the workplace." Reinforce desired behaviors with praise or gratitude and work towards being a cohesive unit that discourages specific behaviors through feedback rather than criticism. Feedback is a win-win situation that encourages those involved and integrates a mutual solution.
Consider your options if your boyfriend isn't receptive to approaches to changing his critical ways. As the parent, you are a critical, important component of your adult children's lives. Your boyfriend may be important to you as well but without a willingness to change, he is ignoring your requests to reduce his reliance on criticism. At the point where you feel chronic resentment towards your boyfriend and possibly, fear at the prospect of he and your adult children sharing a family event, it may be time to sever ties with him. Criticism is destructive and holding on to it like a tool of emotional manipulation ultimately will force you to choose sides.
Maura Banar has been a professional writer since 2001 and is a psychotherapist. Her work has appeared in "Imagination, Cognition and Personality" and "Dreaming: The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Dreams." Banar received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Buffalo State College and her Master of Arts in mental health counseling from Medaille College.